Weekend Preview: Athletes gear up for major road, track and mountain events…

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Weekend Preview: Athletes gear up for major road, track and mountain events…
As the competitive bandwagon rolls on towards the height of the summer season, local athletes will be looking forward to testing themselves at some major events this weekend.

Locally, the Les Jones Memorial 10k, which is part of the ongoing NOVOSCO 10K GRAND PRIX, and the Annalong Horseshoe Mountain Race, the third race in the NIMRA Championship, lead the way. However, the Jengana 10k, 3 Lakes Challenge and Strabane-Lifford Half Marathon also provide an excellent choice for athletes.

Outside Northern Ireland, some of our local track stars will be lining up against the UK’s best at the prestigious BMC Solihull GP and the Inter Counties Mountain Running Championships.

Let’s take a look at who could be going where…

Les Jones Memorial 10k:
Over the past 26 years, Athletics Northern Ireland has run the Les Jones Memorial 10k as a remembrance for the late Athlete, Team Manager and Chairman Les Jones who passed away in 1992.

This year’s ChampionChip Ireland sponsored Les Jones 10k, which takes place later tonight (Friday 12th May 2017), will again provide a fitting tribute as it looks to be the most exciting yet, with a record number of nearly 400 participants making use of the online entry system – more will turn up on the night.

For the first time ever, there will be an added incentive to perform, with the first 400 10k runners who cross the finish line receiving a finishers medal. On top of this, a new 1k fun run (within the confines of MPT) will also be introduced, making for an excellent night of running.

The competitive 10k event will cover a tough course, taking competitors onto the Lagan Towpath and towards Shaws Bridge, before tackling the infamous climb on the way back to the finish line on the Mary Peters Track.

At the sharp end, two-time winner of the race, Brendan Teer (East Down AC) will make a welcome return. The former NI & Ulster Junior XC Champion claimed victory in 2014 and 2015 but missed out in 2016 because of injury – following a return to action at the Craic 10k (34:41) in March, Brendan has shown glimpses of his best with a 33:48 for second place at the recent Ballynahinch Lions 10k.

Joining Brendan at the head of the pack will be last year’s third place finisher Stephen O’Gorman (Dromore AC). Since losing in a sprint finish to Marc Jennings (North Belfast Harriers) here twelve months ago, the Dromore man has gone on to become ‘one to watch’, reducing his 10k personal best to 33:22 (Seeley Cup 2016).

Experienced Willowfield Harriers athlete Paul Rowan, winner of the Les Jones Memorial 10k on three occasions (2005, 2006 and 2008) will also take to the start line and could well contest a podium place. Paul’s most recent outing was a 34:57 finish at the Ballynahinch 10k; his best ever on the Les Jones course is 31:39 in 2005. Other athletes who should place well include Chris Moren (Willowfield Harriers), David Noble (Larne AC) and Bryan Edgar (Springwell Running Club).

Judith Lonnen (City of Lisburn AC) and Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers) will be the leading contenders in a ladies race that contains six athletes who are capable of going under forty minutes, which makes for an excellent race.

Judith has a 10k personal best of 36:38 – this saw the versatile athlete claim a bronze medal at the NI & Ulster 10k (Road) Championships last year (November 2016), where she only lost out to the in-form pairing of Emma Mitchell (QUB AC) and Laura Graham (Mourne Runners). Meanwhile, Amy has a 10k best of 36:50, which she ran at Jimmy’s 10k earlier this year.

Northern Ireland masters cross country international Denise Logue (Ballydrain Harriers) adds further class to the line-up with a 38:04 best for the distance; this came at Jimmy’s 10k this year. Julie Murphy (Lagan Valley AC) and Natalie Hall (Acorns AC), a podium finisher at last week’s Termoneeny 10k, will also contest a podium place, while Ballymena Runners’ Geraldine Quigley should also be aiming for a sub-40 minute finish.

Note: Online entry is now closed. However, you will still be able to register for the 10k on the night for a fee of £20 per entry. To register for the 1k fun run on the night, an individual entry fee will cost £7.50 and a family of four will cost £20.

Jengana 10k:
On Saturday 13th May 2017, athletes from across the province are expected to descend on Shanes Castle Estate in Antrim for the 5th annual Jengana 10k race, a well-organised event which covers a stunning course within the confines of the popular County Antrim Estate. Participants are asked to take note of the revised start time – the race will now kick off at 3pm!

Reigning Champion and event regular Dennis Scott (North Down AC) will return and the North Down AC star will be hopeful of emulating the performance which saw him hold off East Coast AC’s Matthew Hewitt to win in 34:12 last year. Recently, Dennis has clocked 16:21 for 5k and 9:30 for 3k, so it’s hard to look past him when considering potential contenders – although, if Matthew has managed to shake off a recent injury, he too could be well in the mix. The same could be said for 2015 Champion Kevin O’Boyle (Unattached) who may well toe the line – Kevin has run 35:47 on this course, but is capable of bettering this at the moment. Other men to look out for could include PACE Running Club trio Aaron Woodman, Stephen Nicholson and Oliver Cook, as well Larne AC’s Marta Keane, Ballydrain Harriers’ Norman Mawhinney and Unattached athlete Bernard Brady.

Meanwhile, in the ladies race, 2015 winner Suzanne Higgins (Lagan Valley AC) should start and will play a part at the front if she does. It is unlikely that last year’s runner up, Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers), will return given that she is set to compete at the Les Jones 10k less than 24 hours earlier; however, stranger things have happened!
North Belfast Harriers’ Louise Smith will be worth watching, as will PACE Running Club’s Nicola Swinson, a podium finisher here in 2014 and 2015. Natasha Henderson (County Antrim Harriers), Kirsty Sharratt (Unattached), Julianne Keane (Larne AC), Deirdre Bradley (Acorns AC), Ally Bennett (County Antrim Harriers) and Julie Murphy (Lagan Valley AC) should all be in the mix.

Annalong Horseshoe Mountain Race:
Also on Saturday 13th May 2017, local mountain runners will take on the famous Annalong Horseshoe Mountain Race, which is the third race of this year’s Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) Championship.

The race is classed as a ‘long’ event for NIMRA Championship purposes and measures 13.1 miles in distance with 1,550 metres of ascent incorporated.  The fact that the Inter Counties Mountain Running Championships (preview below) will take place on the day, may well have an impact on how things turn out, with some key contenders missing out as they represent NIMRA in Scotland.

After excelling during the early part of this season, Mourne Runners’ William McKee is likely to play a major part in proceedings. The Kilkeel man has taken home the top prize in the opening NIMRA Championship encounters at Glenariffe and The Fallows – he has also impressed throughout the Hill & Dale Series; this includes a win at last night’s ‘Rocky’ event.

Although having openly admitted to being more comfortable over shorter distances, William has shown his class at this event before, winning last year in 2:14:11 – this was six minutes clear of his closest rival! However, William will not get it all his own way, with club mate David McKee (Mourne Runners) likely to head the chase pack, just like he did at the aforementioned NIMRA Championship opening races. David was second in Glenariffe and third at The Fallows, with Jonny Steede (Glens Runners) taking the runners up prize in Rostrevor – Jonny will not compete this weekend.

Timothy Johnston (Mourne Runners) and Allan Bogle (City of Derry AC) will miss out as they travel to Scotland, but the ever-consistent pairing of Shane Donnelly (Acorns AC) and David Hicks (Newcastle AC) should compete – Shane is a reserve for the NIMRA team but will race here if he doesn’t travel.  Neil Carty (North Belfast Harriers), Connor Reid (Ballymena Runners) and Gary Bailey (Mourne Runners) will finish inside the top ten if they run.

In-form athlete Esther Dickson (Newry AC), who won the Glenariffe Mountain Race and The Fallows races, will be a notable absentee, as will the experienced Shileen O’Kane (Lagan Valley AC).   Last year’s winner Gillian Wasson (Ballymena Runners) was named as a reserve on the Inter Counties team and may well toe the line here if she is not required to travel.  The always impressive Diane Wilson (Dromore AC) and the improving Moire O’Sullivan (Unattached) should be involved in the chase for top honours, with Bethany Haugh (Mourne Runners) also capable of taking a step onto the podium if she races.  Charlene Haugh (Mourne Runners), who has made a welcome return to competitive action recently, could be another athlete to look out for; Charlene won last nights H&D Series ‘Rocky’ race.

Downpatrick Lions ‘3 Lakes’ Challenge:
In County Down on Saturday 13th May 2017, East Down AC will assist the local Downpatrick Lions Club in the organisation of their annual Lions ‘3 Lakes’ Challenge, an event which offers participants the choice of either a 15k race or a 7k race, both of which are set on an impressive undulating rural course, starting and finishing at the Lakeside Inn, Downpatrick.

East Down AC’s Brendan Teer has been a dominant figure at this event over the last number of years, winning at least the last three running’s of the event (our records don’t stretch back any further). Despite being on the start list for the Les Jones Memorial 10k in Belfast tonight (Friday 12th May 2017), the Northern Ireland international should take to the start line to defend his title.

Brendan should be joined by club mate Barrie Atkinson (East Down AC) and event regular Paul Carroll (Annadale Striders), two very capable athletes. Paul Burns (East Down AC), a third-place finisher here twelve months ago, should also run. Ballydrain Harriers duo Gareth Lyons and Richard Coey and Unattached athlete Mark McFeeters, may also compete.

Belfast City Marathon winner Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) may return to action at this event – after some well deserved rest and recovery, the local hero will be keen to get a good run out; Laura will finish well up the final standings overall.  Reigning Champion Niamh Kellett (East Down AC) and former Champion Karen Alexander (Acorns AC) could well be amongst those chasing prizes in the ladies race. Ballydrain Harriers’ Amanda Jackson and Heather McNeilly will also place well.

British Milers Club Solihull Grand Prix Track Meeting (England):
Also in England on Saturday 12th May 2017, Northern Ireland and Ireland international Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC) will be amongst a number of Northern Ireland athletes hoping to impress at the BMC’s Solihull Track Meeting in Birmingham.

Rio Olympian Kerry will be joined on the extensive race programme by the likes of Emma Mitchell (QUB AC), Fintan Stewart (City of Derry AC), James Hamilton (Ballymena Runners), Jonathan Whan (City of Lisburn AC), Rachel Gibson (North Down AC), Ben Branagh (St Malachy’s AC), Conor Duffy (Glaslough Harriers) and Chris Madden (City of Lisburn AC).

Start lists for the BMC Solihull Grand Prix are available HERE.

Inter-Counties Mountain Running Championships (Scotland):
On Saturday 13th May 2017, a team of mountain runners from NI will represent the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) at the Inter Counties Mountain Running Championships, which take place at Broughton Heights Hill Race in Scotland.  The course measures 9.6km race with 600m of ascent.

The following athletes have been selected by NIMRA:

Men:  Allan Bogle (City of Derry AC), Ryan Stewart (Shettleston Harriers), Timothy Johnston (Mourne Runners) and Gavin Mulholland (Calder Valley FR) and Reserve: Shane Donnelly (Acorns AC).

Ladies:  Shileen O’Kane (Lagan Valley AC), Esther Dickson (Newry AC), Megan Wilson (East Down AC) and Martsje Hell (North Belfast Harriers) and Reserve: Gillian Wasson (Ballymena Runners).

 

Strabane – Lifford Half Marathon:
On Sunday 14th May 2017, hundreds of athletes will take to the start line of the annual Strabane to Lifford Half Marathon, organised by Strabane District Council and Lifford-Strabane AC. The race will start in Northern Ireland (in Strabane) and take competitors over the border to Lifford in Ireland.

Over the last three years, Stephen Duncan (Omagh Harriers) has dominated this event, having cruised to victory in 2014 and 2015. Interestingly, Project Africa Athletics men Dan Tanui (1:06:09) and Eric Koech (1:07:22) came in in 2016 and claimed the top two prizes, with Stephen securing third place in 1:09:47.

Dan could well feature again this year and following his 2:17:40 for second place at the Belfast City Marathon two weeks ago. Fellow Kenyan athlete Emanuel Kiprotich-Melly (Project Africa Athletics) could also start, again providing tough competition for Northern Ireland international Stephen. Gary Slevin (City of Derry AC), Pierce McCullagh (Sperrin Harriers), Colum Gaile (Albertville Harriers) and Paul McCafferty (City of Derry AC) will place well if they run.

Letterkenny AC’s Natasha Adams will be stand out favourite if she decides to attempt a defence of her title. Natasha clocked a phenomenal 1:15:19 to win here in 2016 and it’s hard to see anyone coming close to that time. Project Africa’s Salome Jepkoech-Kimutai (Kenya), a third place finisher at the Belfast City Marathon (in 2:53:59), may also race. Tanya Quinn (Sperrin Harriers) and Irene Clements (Enniskillen Running Club) have performed well over this course previously and could therefore contest a podium place this time around.

Parkrun:
As always, Northern Ireland’s twenty four parkrun events will take place this weekend, for more information on these, or to locate your nearest event, please visit our dedicated ‘parkrun’ section within our fixtures page.